Here’s another way of looking at the causes of health disparities. Thirty years ago, University of Michigan researcher Arline Geronimus advanced a theory that the stress of living in a racist society can lead to bad health outcomes for marginalized groups.
Attempting to explain the immense difference in mortality rates between Black and white babies, Geronimus had gathered data on more than 300,000 pregnant women. Black babies then died at more than double the rate of white babies in their first year of life. The greater rate of Black teen pregnancies was commonly assumed to explain the gap.
Geronimus’s investigation stood that hypothesis on its head: Black teens’ babies were healthier than those of Black women in their 20s and older. Geronimus speculated that because Black teens had endured fewer years of racism-induced stress, they gave birth to healthier children. She labeled this stress as “weathering,” like a rock worn down in a vigorous stream.
For her trouble she was attacked so vociferously from both the left and right that she retreated from the debate. Now, three decades later, further investigation on the effects of stress and trauma has given her early work new life and resulted in her recently released book, Weathering: The Extraordinary Stress of Ordinary Life in an Unjust Society. Get a run down on Geronimus’s analysis and its contemporary uses in this New York Times piece, How ‘Weathering’ Contributes to Racial Health Disparities.